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Massive Attack @ The Wiltern 05/18/10

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In what was their first Los Angeles show in nearly four years and the first of three consecutive, sold-out dates at the Wiltern, Bristol-based trip-hop legends Massive Attack treated the crowd to a nearly perfect two-hour set of their patented brand of atmospheric music. While the first half of the set was heavy on the newest release—2010's Heligoland—the well-known tracks that delivered them to prominence were not ignored. One of the highlights being a stripped down version of "Teardrop" with former Tricky collaborator and evening opener Martina Topley-Bird, who lent her soulful voice to the band on about a third of the evening's tracks.

One of the marvels of the performance was the reworkings and stage performances of classics such as "Inertia Creeps" and "Mezzanine." It can be a struggle for electronic-based outfits to bring their sound to a venue using live instrumentation, but this was where the true beauty in the performance remained. Atmosphere is and has always been integral to the Massive Attack sound. The eerie melancholia and paranoia that is pervasive in their music, now more than ever, serves as some semblance of a gauge for the world at large. Freedom, from oppression, from the mind and from government—be it foreign or domestic—is a theme that resonates throughout the Massive Attack repertoire; In the performance, it was echoed through the use of quotes from George Orwell, Hunter S. Thompson, Desmond Tutu and other revolutionary minds, which were displayed on an enormous LED screen behind the band. The message reached its apex in "Safe From Harm" as the LED scroll ended with the unmistakable Emma Lazarus line, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free..." As it faded out the words were replaced with "Arizona What the Fuck??!" a quote from front man Robert Del Naja (aka 3-D).

There are few bands, if any, in today's music climate with a dissenting political message. Gone are the days when Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy were at the forefront of revolutionary music, disseminating their political views and opinions to the masses. And while Massive Attack may not be as pointed and groundbreaking as they once were, the message, like that of Rage and Public Enemy, is truly timeless. Just before closing Del Naja said, "Thank you, I guess we will see you again in about 5 years." Given the change the world has seen in the previous 5 years, both politically and musically, it's safe to assume that Massive Attack's music will resonate as strongly in the future as it does now.

Set List
United Snakes // Babel // Rising Son // Girl I Love You // Psyche // Future Proof // Invade Me // Teardrop // Mezzanine // Angel // Safe from Harm // Inertia Creeps
Encore: Splitting the Atom // Unfinished Sympathy // Atlas Air // Karmacoma